By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
By all accounts, you could search the hockey world from pillar to post and you wouldn’t find a single soul that would say a bad word about now soon to be former Bruins winger David Backes. The 14-year veteran and former captain of the St. Louis Blues – where he was known as a very good, but not great, player – in his heyday was known for his combination of physical play and offensive production.
Unfortunately, he left most of his game in the Gateway to the West when Bruins general manager Don Sweeney mistakenly signed him to a five-year, $30 million deal in the summer of 2016.
The irony of the free-agent acquisition at the time – and more so even now – is that Sweeney was making a concerted effort to get away from bulk and brawn, and trying to build a team with more speed and skill – which eliminates most of the available talent pool that isn’t the likes of the freak that is the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin.
And the unavoidable ugly fact is that this strategy – coupled with his poor choice to sign the then 32-year old to the length and term that he did – led to perhaps the best opportunity of the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship core claiming another ring last spring when Backes’ old team literally beat the snot out of Sweeney’s club on the way to the franchise’s first time claiming hockey’s most coveted prize on the Bruins home ice/slush in Game 7 of the Final.
“We just felt a guy like Kuhly [Karson Kuhlman], or maybe [Anton] Blidh down the road, has more pace to his game to … go that route with David,” said B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy following Friday’s practice at the Warrior Arena in Brighton, explaining the reason the team put Backes on waivers.
“So that’s how we best handled it. I know David doesn’t agree with the situation. But that’s a decision we made for the good of the team, and I respect David, like I said, as a person, as a player. We just felt we had better options and that’s how we’re going to go forward, see how it plays out.”
Cassidy also admitted that the player’s history of concussions bore heavily on his recommendation for the move to Sweeney. Frankly, after it was obvious that his role as a top-six forward option had long since past, it was scary to see Backes try to take on the role of a policeman when it was obvious that he was just one more bell ringing away from perhaps permanent damage.
The hope here is that Cassidy, Sweeney and the rest of the Bruins brass has recognized that they stand little chance of winning a Stanley Cup as currently constituted. While there may no longer be room on a championship contending roster in the NHL for a so-called goon, there needs to be at least one or two players in the bottom six of the forward group that can serve as a deterrent to other teams taking a run at the B’s top talent.
For the next three weeks or so, both Kuhlman and Blidh will have an opportunity to audition for that role. However, if they prove by their performance not to fit the bill, it will be up to Sweeney to add that vital piece that kept them from a duck boat parade through downtown last June.